Personal Injury Claims – Is there a time limit?


As with most things in life there’s an expiry date, so to speak, on personal injury claims. This can sometimes be a complex area and raise significant issues in the legal profession. Different circumstances and injuries can bring different time limits, meaning there is simply no definitive answer to this question. There is a history of contention and debate surrounding this complex issue, which this article aims to explore and explain. For clarity, personal injury in this article refers to a disease or impairment of a mental or physical condition.

When did the personal injury happen?

When considering this complex issue in personal injury it is very important to define and ascertain when this time period commenced. One would generally assume that this date would commence from the date of the accident, which on most occasions is indeed correct. In these instances the time period starts from the date the injury was sustained and continues for the necessary length of time for the circumstances.

When did you first notice symptoms?

However, in other more complex cases sometimes there is not a date when a specific action caused injury. For example, repetitive strain injuries are usually sustained over a period of time and not attributable to one particular incident. Therefore, it is impossible for one to associate a specific date of accident and injury onto these claims. It is therefore necessary to take an alternative method for limitation periods in this instance. For these more complex personal injury claims it is necessary to apply a date of knowledge method. This is essentially a date when an injury, which could have been sustained over a period of time, was linked to a particular set of actions, which ultimately caused injury. Once you, as the claimant, have the information to formulate this knowledge then the limitation period will commence. Section 14 of the Limitation Act 1980 defines the date of knowledge as having knowledge of the following:
  • a serious injury
  • and the injury was attributable in part/whole to an act or omission of negligence or breach of duty.
  • identity of the defendant

The Personal Injury Claim Limitation Period

Once the issue of when the limitation period commences it is necessary to then establish the length of this. In sections 11 and 12 of the Limitation Act 1980 it concedes that you, the claimant, must commence a claim for damages normally within 3 years from either the date of accident or the date of knowledge. However, there are circumstances where this can differ.

Exceptions to the rules

In cases where a person is considered under a disability then the time limitation period will run from when this is ceased. A person is considered as under a disability either when they are a minor, a child under the age of 18 years old, or has been declared of unsound mind under the Mental Health Act 1983. In these instances a person under a disability can bring a claim anytime up to 3 years after this disability ceases. For instance, in the case of a minor a personal injury claim may be made until they reach 21 years of age. This is because they are deemed incapable of managing their property and affairs until they reach 18 years old, by which time the 3 year limitation period commences.

Fatal injuries

In more fatal cases of personal injury the next of kin of the injured individual would have 3 years from the date of death or date of knowledge, which could be the post mortem, to claim. This applies when the death of the injured person is unrelated to any accident. For example, if an individual has an accident in a supermarket and sustains injury due to the supermarket’s negligence the individual has 3 years to pursue a personal injury claim. However, if they die within these three years, whether their death is related to the accident or not, then the next of kin may claim on their behalf. The next of kin will have the 3 year time period and again the rules of date of knowledge apply in this instance.

Accidents at sea or in the air

Personal injury accidents that occur either at sea or in the air are governed by a different set of conventions and guidelines. The Montreal Convention (1999) and the Athens Convention (1974) apply to the UK and others who have put these in to effect. Both of these conventions limit the time period in which to make a claim for personal injury, to 2 years.

So here we have identified that different circumstances can alter the usual 3 year limitation period. Furthermore, that sometimes the start of this limitation period is complex and difficult to ascertain. However, what is important to remember is that this time period is important when looking to pursue a personal injury claim. If you attempt to pursue a claim outside of this time period then it becomes, what is known as, statute barred. In many occasions if you commence a claim for personal injury and it nears this time limitation then you can issue protective proceedings. This simply means that the claim is protected from being statute barred and the claim may commence further. Overall, as a general rule of thumb, 3 is a magic number when considering the majority of expiry dates for personal injury claims.

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